Updated December 26th
If you got an electronic gift for Christmas and can't figure out how to install it or configure it, you're not alone. A very large percentage of electronics that are returned are not broken, but just too hard for the person to figure out.
The first thing you need to do when you unwrap your holiday tech gift is to make sure you keep all the packaging. That way, if something really goes wrong or you just don't like it, you can hopefully return it.
Hunt for the Manual
Some products just work out of the box and are intuitive enough to figure out on your own. If that's not the case with yours you may have to resort to reading the manual. But a lot of products these days come with little if any documentation. There may be a CD-ROM with a manual or you may have to go to the company's website. If you can't find your manual, go to Retrevo.com to see if they have one. The company has digitized thousands of them for popular products.
If you have questions that you can't answer with the documentation, see if the company has a FAQ (frequently asked questions) or a forum on its website. Some companies offer online chat which is a lot better than trying to get questions answered via email or forums.
Another option is to just try to type the question into Google or Bing. You'd be surprised how many answers you find that way. You can also try posing questions on Twitter or your Facebook friends. Be sure to include the name of the product, especially on Twitter. It's possible that someone who doesn't follow you might be searching for that product name and have an answer for you.
800 Good Luck
Calling the company tech's tech support department is often an adventure in frustration. Some companies are going to be overwhelmed during the first few days or even weeks after Christmas and some customer service departments were shut-down by the East Coast snow storm the day after Christmas. Be patient and keep calling. This is a very busy time for tech support. Eventually you should get through to a person, but whether that person can actually help you is another matter. If you're not getting the help you need, ask them to escalate it to a higher level of tech support. Make sure you have the product name and number and other information such as serial number available when you call. Whatever you do, try to be pleasant to the person on the phone. It's not that person's fault that the product isn't working.
Some companies make it really hard to even find their phone number. If you can't find it in the manual or their website, try looking it up on Bing.com. Bing often lists company's customer service numbers even before you click on the link.
You can always contact the store where you bought it, but unless you got it at a specialty store with well trained staff, you're likely to get blank stares or, worse, someone trying to help you who has absolutely no idea what he or she is talking about. If that happens, leave quickly. Don't waste your time.
There are also some third party resources such as AskDaveTaylor.com where Dave, who is also a Huffington Post blogger provides answers to thousands of user questions. Tom's Hardware has forums with answers to computer questions.
Keep trying and if you really can't get the help you need, then return the product. Life's too short to waste time on gadgets that don't work properly.
Follow Larry Magid on Twitter: www.twitter.com/larrymagid